President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono recently surprised the nation with his controversial remark that ministers who pay too much attention to their political parties and neglect their main duties should resign. Some say this was an empty statement meant to divert public attention from problems affecting his own party. Others argue that he likely meant what he said, but that he must set the example with his actions.
Why would the president make such remarks if he could have called the offending ministers into his office and reprimanded them privately? The president’s move wasn’t very elegant.
Strangely, the warning was addressed to ministers from political parties that constitute the Setgab — the coalition that theoretically supports his government. So, the actual message, in the eyes of the public, is that he is not in control of the coalition that he formed. The remark made him look desperate.
Second, didn’t the president realize from the start that he would not be able to control ministers from political parties other than his own because they would work as party cadres while being Cabinet ministers? Didn’t he realize that when a person serves two masters he favors one and cannot give equal attention to both?
This brings us to a very fundamental question about state organization.
According to the constitution and state administration science, Indonesia adheres to the presidential cabinet system instead of a parliamentary cabinet system. In a presidential cabinet system, the president is the head of state and concurrently the head of government.
This is why we don’t have a prime minister, even though the lower house of parliament is comprised of 560 representatives from political parties, while the upper house or Senate is filled with 132 representatives from 33 provinces that comprise more than 500 regencies, districts, and mayoralties across Indonesia.
The first fatal step the president took was to approve the establishment of the Setgab. Though this was not against the law, it paved the way for political parties to weaken the presidential system, because by setting up the coalition, the president actually formed the existence of opposition parties — those that are excluded from the coalition.
What he should have done was set up what I would call a “professional presidential cabinet” which would comprise capable ministers and professionals from any realm. They may come from academic communities (Indonesian scholars at home and abroad), business circles or other professions. They may also come from political parties, but their inclusion should be based on their professional integrity rather than their ability to act as political party cadres.
In such a case, the president should not worry about unfriendly maneuvers from political parties. As long as his “professional presidential cabinet” performs well, millions of citizens will support him, regardless of what the politicians did.
Third, doesn’t the president know that he is the only one to have received a historic mandate to improve the state administration system, which includes defining a healthy relationship between the executive, legislature, judiciary on one hand and the central and regional governments on the other?
Since the reformasi movement began in May 1998, no president before Yudhoyono has had the opportunity to improve the system of state administration, because the reigns of all his predecessors were too short to allow fundamental changes to the system.
If the president can’t control a handful of ministers that he appointed, how will he control 500 heads of regencies, districts, and mayoralties over whom he has no right to dismiss because they are the heads of “autonomous regions” elected democratically by the people?
Even today, there are distortions in the relationship between the central and regional governments. The Indonesian president cannot dismiss a governor or even a district or subdistrict chief because they are elected by the people and not appointed by the president.
District or subdistrict heads have no obligation to listen to provincial governors, because the regional autonomy law appoints them as “the heads of full autonomous regions.” This is why the mayor of Bogor ignores the president’s repeated demands to reopen a church in compliance with a Supreme Court decision.
The president has two tasks to accomplish before the end of his term. First, set up a healthy cabinet system that doesn’t rely on transactional politics but serves as the foundation for strengthening the democratic and good-governance process.
This calls for a reduction in the number of political parties to a manageable level to allow effective coordination and synergy with the president’s office. That will relieve the president of the need for a Setgab or other bogus coalition.
Second, improve the working relationship between the central and regional governments to create transparency by which to evaluate the performance of bureaucracy chiefs on all levels.
As head of state, the president holds “terminal accountability” over management and development of the nation.
At this juncture, we can’t say if Yudhoyono has succeeded. How can we evaluate his performance when the system of accountability is so obscure?
On the president’s right hand are Cabinet ministers with functional duties. Some are from political parties other than his, so they have split loyalty. On his left hand are governors and district or mayoralty chiefs that he cannot control.
Whoever sits in the chair of Indonesia’s president must be a great communicator, an excellent coordinator, and a system builder, not a politician who only knows about polishing his image.
In fact, this makes all the presidential candidates for 2014 irrelevant. None of the candidates on the early list meet the above criteria. We need a different kind of national leader. He does not have to come from a political party. But he must be a leader who can deliver, even if he has to be an independent candidate.
Pitan Daslani is a senior political correspondent for BeritaSatu Media Holdings. He can be reached at email@example.com.